For Jeffrey Ross, life is all about disaster management and recovery. Even a ride on the subway presents its challenges.
Thankfully, though, Jeffrey works for Maxwell Clark, who not only notices difficult struggles and brave deeds, he believes in easing the first by rewarding the second.
And this Valentine's Day, Clark's decided Jeffrey is long overdue for some sweet strokes of manmade good fortune.
Clark pointed a stern finger at Jeffrey. "There will be no kamikaze routine until you get the supply order in."
"Yeah, yeah." Jeffrey got up, hugging his sketchbook to his chest. He hesitated, forced himself to speak even though it was harder than holding Mom's hair back when she threw up bile. "Thanks, by the way."
"You're welcome," Clark said. "Now get your butt into my office and get to work before I hug you." The mask finally broke, and the corners of Clark's mismatched eyes crinkled.
Jeffrey memorized the expression to sketch it later, then spun and fled to the lockers, reverently stashing the book in his bag. The idea of talking to an actual gallery person made Jeffrey's guts go watery, and he resolutely decided not to think about it. Not until after work and at least a fourteen-hour nap.
Nor would he think about how amazing it was that when the boss was in love, everyone was better for it. The thought train was making him consider erecting an altar in the corner of his apartment, and that would be hard to explain to the three guys who might make it up to Jeffrey's bed this year.
In the kitchen, Ken stood at the grill, sour expression intact. A busboy dumped dishes into the sink, Ken flinched, and Jeffrey decided the better part of valor would be to ask later about the food. Maybe he'd just nab something when Ken wasn't paying attention. Club sandwiches were always disappearing, and the threats Ken made while holding knives were quite creative. Jeffrey and Heather kept a list.
Jeffrey twisted the knob to Clark's office, which used to be a supply room. It was small and held a shoddy desk, two rickety guest chairs, and a deathtrap Clark liked to call the executive's throne. Clark kept a corkboard on one wall, full of everything from receipts to memos to sketches Jeffrey did, and studying the board with a keen interest was a tall guy with broad shoulders, dark hair, dusky skin, and wearing a red sweater and jeans.
"Hey," Jeffrey said, confused and alarmed. "What are you --"
Aquila, of the umber eyes, talented hands, and perfect cock, jumped and faced Jeffrey. The door shut, blocking Ken's bellowing, and Jeffrey pressed himself against it. He blinked, hard, and Aquila was still there. Jeffrey did it again: no change. They stared at each other, and Jeffrey mentally tore down the altar in his apartment and replaced it with Clark's head on a pike, cartoon Xs over the eyes and tongue lolling.
"Uh, I --" Aquila began.
"What the --" Jeffrey said at the same time.
"Let me explain?" Aquila pleaded.